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Siam and Laos As Seen by Our American Missionaries

301 pages
Library of Alexandria
When about to visit a foreign country the prudent traveler is careful to seek in guidebooks and from maps some data in regard to its position, prominent features and relation to adjacent regions. Such information adds interest to each stage of his journey. Climbing a mountain, he overlooks two kingdoms. Such a valley opens into a rich mining district; the highlanders of that range are descendants of the original lords of the soil; the navigability of this river is of commercial importance as a possible trade-route. In like manner, bold outlines of the whole peninsula furnish the best introduction to a careful study of Central Indo-China, showing the trade-connection of Northern Laos with Burmah and the richest mining province of China, and the relation of Siamese progress to certain Asiatic commercial problems. New views also are thus gained of the great work actually accomplished by our American missionaries for science and civilization in this corner of the globe during their self-imposed exile of half a century. Indo-China is the south-east corner of Asia, a sharply-defined, two-pronged peninsula outjutting from China just below the Tropic of Cancer, its long Malayan arm almost touching the equator, bounded east, south and west by water. Southward, the Eastern Archipelago stretches toward Australia, “a kind of Giants’ Causeway by means of which a mythological Titan might have crossed from one continent to another.” Along the north the extreme south-west angle of the Celestial Empire, by name Yunnan, lies in immediate contact with the Burmese, the Laos and the Tonquinese frontiers, whence the main rivers of the peninsula divide their streams. Yunnan may be regarded as a lower terrace projecting from the giant Thibetan plateau—an extensive, uneven table-land, separated for the most part by mountains from contiguous regions. The northern portion is a confused tangle of lofty ranges, with peaks rising above the snowline, and few inhabited valleys—a region, in a word, compared to which Switzerland is an easy plain—of wild romantic scenery, ravines, torrents and landslips, but with little industry or commerce. Maize is used for food throughout the sparsely-populated district, since rice cannot be cultivated at such altitudes. The main ranges have a north-and-south trend, subsiding some thousand feet before reaching the Indo-Chinese frontier. Parallel to the lower south and south-east chains of mountains are a series of rich upland valleys, each basin supplied with its own watercourse or lake, and tenanted more or less densely by the busy villages situated near the water. Rice, pepper and the poppy are extensively cultivated. The choicest portion of this province lies within the open angle formed by the divergence of four large rivers—viz.“the Yangtse, taking its course due north, till, bending to the east, it makes its final exit into the Chinese Sea at Shanghai; the Mekong, pursuing a tortuous course south to the China Sea near Saigon; the Si-Kiang, originating near the capital of the province, flows due east to Canton; while a fourth, the Songkoi, or ‘Red River,’ goes south-east to Hanoi and the Gulf of Tonquin. A central position amidst such mighty waterways and with so wide a circumference of outside communication indicates the great importance of the district either for administration or trade—a fact early appreciated by the sagacity of the Chinese, who as far back as the third century established fortified colonies among the then savage and recalcitrant tribes of Yunnan. For export Yunnan has three capital products to offer—opium, tea and metals. The opium-yielding poppy grows almost everywhere. The celebrated tea of the south-east is in great request, being considered by the Chinese themselves superior to all other qualities of tea throughout the empire. Its cultivation offers no difficulties, the high price it commands outside of the region being solely due to the costliness of transport.